Today I got to hear my 87-year-old great uncle recount life in Poland during the war, with his brother, my grandfather. So many things to comprehend. I’m exhausted. I took copious notes. I strained to hear and understand. I’ll need my mother to fact-check.
My roots continue to unfurl before me. There is depth where I once saw nothing at all. My dad’s eyebrows. A curiosity for motor vehicles. An inexhaustible sense of direction that spans decades and street names named and then renamed over wars and occupations. A love and easy grasp of language. In my grandfather’s — and my great uncle’s — case: German. My father: English. Me: Polish. Without it, I would be nowhere in this country, unable to make any connections, with any family member, or friend.
As it happens, thanks to this genetic predisposition for language, I have rekindled family relations, made connections with cousins who, for years, were only part of photographs that I long forgot to look at. Even my childhood girlfriend, who was born a month before me, in the same hospital, our mothers shared the ward, we were able to talk like old friends, thanks to our connected language.
Amid the conversation tonight, a 14 month-old babe, my cousin’s son, hung around, watching us all with curiosity as we strained to make funny faces to make him smile. My mom was the biggest hit. He’s learning language too.
But I was all ears for my great uncle. I don’t know what sort of relationship he had with my father, or my grandfather, although from the way he spoke about Dziadek, he seemed to respect him a whole lot. There aren’t many people in this world who ever did. My grandfather was not well-liked by members of my family. I was too young to really know why or care all that much, and I was still far too self-involved to get to know him before he passed away in 2006. But at least I got a glimpse of who he was to someone else tonight. And I got to learn what life was like in Poland — at least one little corner of it at least — when the Germans came to town.
I won’t forget this night.